Langley RCMP has a Mountie helping the mentally ill

Const. Justin Guiel isn’t always looking to make an arrest. In fact, he’d prefer if he didn’t have to get out the handcuffs for the people he deals with on Langley’s streets.

For the last six months, Guiel has been the first Langley Mountie dedicated to working with people suffering from mental health issues.

A member of the Community Policing unit who previously worked tracking down prolific offenders, Guiel said there seemed to be a need for a dedicated officer.

“Mental health calls seem to be increasing,” Guiel said.

When mental health problems in an individual become so bad that the police are called, Guiel is often the point person.

“A lot of times we try to get them more resources instead of just moving them through the criminal justice system,” Guiel said.

With a background in criminology, Guiel didn’t go into the RCMP originally thinking he would work with the mentally ill.

On the prolific offender squad, each officer has a kind of specialty, or group that they liaise with. Some officers work with the probation system, for example.

“I was the mental health person,” Guiel said. “I recognized that part time wasn’t going to do it.”

He put forward the idea for the full-time mental health position and got backing from his superiors, he said.

The job is often stressful, and requires a lot of empathy.

“They’re people that are suffering from issues that are out of their control a lot of the time,” said Guiel.

Guiel works in plainclothes to help reassure the people he calls his clients, as some people become agitated when dealing with a uniformed officer.

Unless someone is an immediate danger to their own person or to someone else, you can’t force people into treatment.

His main goal is often to convince people to get help – to meet with health officials and nurses, to take medication, to go see a doctor.

“I try and engage them, I try and engage family members,” Guiel said. Having a family support system can make a big difference for someone struggling with mental health issues, he said.

He also works with a wide range of partners. Guiel often stops to chat with the various health and social service workers around Langley, many of whom deal with youths or the homeless.

Progress with his clients can be slow, noted Guiel, and the work is challenging, but can be satisfying.

“I really do enjoy it,” he said. “I enjoy the feeling when I do help someone.”

Guiel works with the Langley homeless quite often. Many of them have mental illnesses, often exacerbated by the fact that they are self-medicating with illegal drugs.

Those are challenging cases because there is often a lack of support or a lack of family altogether.

Guiel thinks that mental illness isn’t recognized enough in the community, and that many people are marginalized and don’t receive enough advocacy.

“My heart goes out to these people,” said Guiel.

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